Jens Schou

Jens Schou var en person som intresserade mig redan när jag läste om honom i DatorMagazin och hans ”Populous”-äventyr i Europa. Jag förstod aldrig riktigt hur man blir så bra på ett spel att man kan tävla med de bästa i Europa – och förmodligen hade jag inte orken som krävs heller.

Redan för ett par år sedan försökte jag få tag på denne trevlige göteborgare men gick bet varje gång. Han var inte superaktiv på Internet och vad jag minns besvarade han inte mina försök till kontakt på sociala medier heller. Så en dag insåg jag att vi hade en gemensam bekant – och jag frågade henne ifall hon inte ville introducera mig. Och så fick vi faktiskt kontakt till slut och jag kunde ta mig till Göteborg en varm höstdag för att intervjua denne unike man.

Det visade sig inte vara helt lätt att ta en bra skärmdump av ett spel som ”Populous”. Det är mycket som händer på skärmen och vår layout gjorde att vi inte fick plats med hela skärmdumpen utan måste kapa uppe och nere, vilket ställde ytterligare krav på bilden. Dessutom ville jag ha med alla typiska attribut i bilden; hjälten, ett slott och kanske någon byggnad, land som höjts eller sänkts och så där. Jag höll säkert på i en hel timme innan jag var nöjd.

Artikeln om Jens ”Populous”-EM har jag ju redan kört på och bland kommentarerna presenterade sig plötsligt en person som känner Regis Perichon, mannen som lyckades bli Europamästare efter att ha slagit Kenneth Little, Schous baneman, i finalen. Via honom kom jag i kontakt med Regis Perichon själv men fick aldrig utrymme att få med hans svar på mina frågor.

Istället publicerar jag dem här i sin helhet:

So, what you read in the Swedish article is correct. I thought I had played the Swedish Champion first but, actually, I played the German Champion and, as you may guess, being French and defeating the German representative was sweet. I do not recall his name but I think he was good but as good as the British Champ; he gave me trouble. So, where to start? And can I trust my own memory for fact of yore?

My involvement was serendipitous; I always was a fan of video games and still play a fair amount with my kids (who so far can’t beat me… but that will change). I was at a videogame store and my cousin happened to walk in and offer to buy me a game. My eyes came across ”Populous” and we bought it. In the video magazine (called TILT) that covered the tournament, they advertised the tournament and the selection of candidate players was to be done based on the ”code” that players would get every time they would clear one of the 500 levels the game offered. My cousin and I trained and relayed each other to go as far as possible; literally around the clock. I was living with my brother and my cousin and I would play and see him go to bed and at night and wake-up to go to work the next morning; no interruption in gaming… crazy. I recall submitting the code for the level 428 but few days later we had cleared the last level and so re-applied with that code. I am not sure whether it was the 428th or 500th level where there was just a few minutes on the clock and after time was up every one was forced to battle, all house broken down and all ”people” gathering at the center of the map for the fight. There was no way to win this just on population growth; the game favored the AI with development speed. We finally got past this one but developing enough to get a ”bottomless swamp” power and putting a swamp right close to the ”final battle spot” but on the side where the enemies forces would come through.

Selection for the French final was set and I was one of 4. It was played, LAN-mode, at the headquarters of the TILT magazine under the supervision of Dany Boolauck who was a journalist at TILT. The French final went fast, no much to say about it. I was to come back for the European final and I do not remember if it was a few weeks or a few months later.

The European final, again, took place at the TILT headquarters through modem using Amiga (500?) although I had trained on an Atari computer (my cousin’s – who was working and had money whereas I was attending the University). It was strange because I was set-up for the game but people at the magazine just went about their other duties. The map was very simple, flat and exactly the same everywhere so no one had an advantage. I won the first game against the German. Good opponent but no real difficulties. Final score was 2-0. After the Swedish and the British had duked it out it was the final that took place the same day. He was a much tougher adversary, much tougher. He had mastered the quick development and rush to the opponents side to create a large mountain, therefore destroying all housing (needed for further development of your own population). I think it was the standard tactic and had I come to the final with this tactic, I would have certainly lost.

Instead I spread sideways along one axis/edge of the map and then moved along the other axis/edge to create a development along those two edges rather than going from one corner toward the center. When he came to wreak havoc in my part of the world, he probably used all of his ”mountain power” to ruin my developments. But I had spread on the edges, reaching his original settlement and using in a very targeted fashion the reminder of my ”mountain power” to both remove his settlements; one by one, using just enough ”mountain power” to destroy his housing, one by one, while creating a small spaces for my population to settle and doing that across the map, moving quickly into one are, doing a few ”clicks” of the map and going to another area to do a few clicks, over and over again. So, a little bit like the famous battle of Canae; he rammed into the weak part of my army at the beginning but found himself surrounded and on top of the tall mountain he had created himself. After that, it the battle of attrition began across the map. It was not easy by any means but his initial tactic, decision to rush into my territory with all his power gave him a short term advantage but put him at a long-term disadvantage. After a while he understood the battle could not be turned to his advantage anymore. He gave up. 1-0. I do not believe he changed his tactics the next game around and the outcome was the same. 2-0. But I have to acknowledge that The British champion, Little, was the toughest player I had played against and, should he have won, he would have deserved it.

Again, it was strange because I had won the tournament but the staff at TILT was absorbed with other things and on my side, I do not think the fact that I had won the tournament sank in. Very anti-climatic. Dany came and congratulated me (later on wrote a funny article in TILT about the French-Gaulish God Belenos (see comic books Asterix and Obelix) winning and all was good.

What I won was the entire stash of Bullfrog videogames and a trip of my choice. They had 4 different possibilities; Train journey in Canada, Nile cruise in Egypt, Ski vacation in Aspen, Colorado or Hawaii vacation. Being in France, I took the furthest spot and opted for Hawaii. They added ~$1,000 for spare money (very nice and all used) and I went to Hawaii the following summer for two weeks with my ”Populous” training partner; my cousin. I hesitated between Hawaii and Egypt but, in retrospect, it was a wise decision. While in Hawaii, I was watching CNN covering the War in the Gulf. Hawaii looked like a much safer area to be in then.

As for Peter Molineux, I think there was one or two missed opportunities. Right after the second game, I chatted ”online” (through the limited game capabilities to do online chats) and he offered to play against him. He was curious about it, I was curious about it but TILT staff ended the connection so that battle did not happen. Always regretted it. Few years later, after studying harder than I had done at the time of ”Populous”, I had gotten my Ph.D and was doing a post-doc at the NIH in Baltimore, Maryland. There, I met a friend of introduced me to the lead programmer for ”Gettysburg” (Brian Reynolds at Firaxis, located in the DC area) and had a peek preview of the upcoming game (it was cool). Following this I sent an e-mail to Peter Molineux at the launch of one of his game (”Black and White” maybe) and he replied, very graceously, remembering the Populous tournament but we did not find a way to pursue the interaction (probably me being to shy about it).

I remember a part of the discussion/post about ”Populous” on the Amiga website you have or contribute to was about the maps used in the tournament. In the French tournament I remember one that was a tiny strip of land on one side. The one used in the Euro final was just a spec of land at opposite corners. So, any other map was more ”exciting” but those in the tournament had to be fair to both players.

As for games, whether Amiga (or Atari), I was good at the type of ”Populous game” like ”Command and Conquer”, the follow-up ”Red Army”. I do not think I was that good though, I had to study hard for my thesis. I would lose to other players and few games really triggered the excitement ”Populous” created, mostly because the games had either poor AI or they were unbalanced and quickly reduced to a single tactic (for example, in ”C&C”, one had to build tanks and rush the opponent’s base. Any other approach would fail), so the strategic aspect was not appealing. There have been exceptions. I think ”Total Annihilation” was one of the best game made and the expansion pack made even better. The AI was strong and there were more than one way to win. Then I pivoted to first shooters with ”Duke Nukem'” being one of the most exciting games ever. simple, fun, fast. I was good at it but I met people that were untouchable! Years later, the game that really wins the award of the most accomplished game ever was ”Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots”. I still consider it a near perfect game.

Did all of this influence my career path? No. But I think it could have happened. Here as well, were two ”missed” opportunities. First, I had committed to Biology/Chemistry studies and missed a window to discover computer sciences at school when all of that computer stuff started to take off. It was question of one year. I am fairly confident that, had I been born in 1968 instead 1967, I would have ended up in the computer science program at school instead of Biology. The second missed opportunity is that I owned a Texas Instrument 99/4A computer and was programming on it but did not have a way to save my programs. There was another magazine in France where people would post their codes on their respective platforms (including Apple and Commodore) and the software deemed the best would be published and the best program of all on monthly basis would receive ~20,000 francs (huge back then). I wrote a program and it looked really good (partial here, right?), had found a old tape recorder to record the code and mailed it but they never were able to read the tape. I think I could have won those 20,000 Francs, or even get my code published. I think, that had happened, I would have switched to computer programming and game coding. I don’t regret where I am now…

… So, what do I do now. LinkedIn can tell you but in brief, I work in the US for companies to develop clinical diagnostic tests. I currently work on a new kidney function test and Anders Grubb, whom you contacted about me, is part of that effort; it is thanks to him and other great scientists around the world that new tests helping patients everywhere can be developed and made available to doctors. Besides that I still avidly play videogames and some of those games are getting more and more exciting but I am in no way as trained as I was for Populous. I heard that South Korea has University programs where they teach, train students in videogames, like real athletes for the Olympic Games. Sounds crazy to some but I bet those students have the time of their life… as long as they keep it fun!

Vän av detaljer ser att i artikeln på sidan 37 finns två stycken intressanta notiser under nyheten om ”Populous”-deltagarna. Den ena berättar om hackerkonferensen i Furulund som jag senare i boken skriver mer om – och den andra berättar om VISA-bedragarna som delar av boken också handlar om. Jag älskar att smyga med sådana detaljer, mina böcker är ofta fulla av dem 🙂